Critical Essays Cooper's Style and Literary Techniques


In The Deerslayer, Cooper has succeeded admirably in achieving a unity of plot and setting; and this achievement, indicated previously as one of the superiorities of the romance, has contributed greatly to the lasting importance of this last tale about Natty Bumppo's exploits. Stylistically, Cooper is at his strongest as a writer in two ways: the descriptions and the physical background, especially of Glimmerglass; and the scenes of action. The many, extensive passages about nature and the geography of the story are poetic and beautiful examples of Cooper's artistic strength. His descriptions, however, are not inserted only for artistic beauty; they are also the means by which he expresses his romantic love of nature, his philosophy about the natural settings, and his belief that man's fate is entwined intimately with all facets of the environment. While the story is admittedly slowed and at times halted by the lyrical renditions of Cooper about nature, The Deerslayer , without these parts, would be only a tale of excitement and adventure.

Cooper's main appeal to young people in his romances about Natty Bumppo, as well as such sea fiction as The Pilot, has been his skill in holding reader interest. He, in short, knows how to spin a story; he is a born storyteller, if such is possible. He uses suspense, close brushes with disaster, accidents, good and bad luck for his characters, mistakes, surprise, and coincidence to promote his cause. All the romantic ideas are here in addition to literary devices long in use. When Cooper is embarked on a scene of action, the reader is so engaged in tracking the course of the characters that the literary scaffolding employed is not usually noticed, and is forgiven if it is sometimes excessively visible. These two positive features of Cooper's art were also the qualities first recognized, accepted, and appreciated by his readers. He won popular fame and critical applause by his skillful artistry in writing the first American novels worthy of the name.

However, Cooper is at his weakest in dialogue because he yields to the then current romantic exaggerations of emotional, sentimental, unrealistic speech; he also utilizes the conversations between characters for a confrontation of his ideas on social, religious, moral, and even political issues. The two lengthiest examples of this weakness in The Deerslayer are the several discussions between Natty and Judith on the ark and the farewells of Natty to his friends when he must return to Mingo captivity. Although characterization is involved in these long and complicated arguments, the action suffers a great deal; at times the plot is almost forgotten, ignored, and lost in the opposing viewpoints. It is doubtful that Cooper, though he shows his profound concern about the American experience and broader problems, has lifted the level of his art by dialogue. It is equally doubtful if he has made his characters more acceptable to the readers by their speeches in time of crisis and danger; more likely he has weakened acceptance of the characters.

Without the extended conversation, however, Cooper would not have survived and would not have been increasingly recognized as a major American thinker. It is therefore impossible to omit, summarize, or ignore the dialogues (as is done in some anthologies and condensations) without sacrificing the total portrait of the man and writer. Another value in Cooper's use of language is his effort to reproduce dialect and peculiar forms of American speech, particularly in the character of Natty Bumppo, emphasizing thereby the indigenous hero of the New World.

Other literary techniques used by Cooper are the chase, escape, and pursuit, disguises; contrasts of characters; the night to heighten the effect of fear and terror; the sunset to stress the beauties of nature; mystery in the guise of a stranger or a character with a mysterious past; and clues to coming events and the outcome of critical situations.